Professor helps develop method to fight bacterial infections
By MOLLY McVOY
Saint Mary's Editor
The trojan horse is back, but this time it is fighting microscopic invaders.
Dr. Marvin Miller and members of his organic laboratory at Notre Dame have developed a new method for fighting bacterial infections. Nicknamed "the trojan horse," their method "sneaks" antibiotic agents into the infecting bacteria.
The lab's project was the cover for the August issue of the Journal of Organic Chemistry, one of the most well respected journals in Miller's field.
Miller's method attaches antibiotic agents to molecules the bacteria cell incorporates as part of normal functioning. The antibiotic can then enter the cell and destroy the bacteria.
"The microbes are essentially committing suicide," Miller said.
In order to survive, bacteria need to incorporate iron into their system and do so using molecules called "siderophores." The siderophores are the molecules to which Miller's lab have attached antibiotics.
"We have demonstrated that it worked several times," Miller said.
As bacterial diseases become more and more resistant to current antibiotics, work such as Miller's work has become increasingly important in the medical community. Many bacteria fight antibiotics by refusing them entry into the cell. By attaching the drug to something the bacteria recognizes as normal, the lab has removed a large part of the resistance problem.
"We may be able to bypass one of the defense mechanisms [of the bacteria] by bypassing the normal transport of antibiotics into the cell," Miller said.
The lab has had the most success attaching a key component of penicillin, beta-lactams, to the siderophores. One of Miller's current tasks is to make the method applicable for more drugs.
"We've attached many different antibiotics and all of them seem to work relatively well," Miller said. "The point we're at right now is trying to make it more general. The point we're at now is really exciting."
In addition to solving part of the resistance problem, this method may also cut back on side effects from taking antibiotics. Presently, antibiotics kill nearly every bacterial organism they come in contact with, including those that are part of the body naturally. This can cause a depeletion in necessary bacteria and leads to unwanted side effects.
This method may allow researchers to specify what bacteria the antibiotic will enter, and, therefore, destroy.
"Our idea is that we'd like to fine tune this method so we have microorganism specific antibiotics," Miller said.
Miller joined the faculty at Notre Dame in 1977, after receiving his B.S. in chemistry from North Dakota State University in 1971 and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1976. He has received numerous awards and fellowships during his tenure at Notre Dame and was given the Shilts/Leonard Teaching Award of the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame for excellence in teaching in 1994.
All News Stories for Wednesday, September 13, 2000